, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 83-88

Can a robot empathize with people?

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This article explores a robotogenetic model of empathetic understanding of another mind as one of the capabilities required in human–robot social interactions. The term “robotogenetic” means that we implement a possible ontogeny (i.e., developmental process) of the social capability onto a robotic embodiment with a certain phylogenetic background (i.e., innate prerequisites). First, we look into infants’ development of social and communicative skills, especially of empathetic understanding of others. We then consider two fundamental abilities, namely eye-contact and joint attention, as the prerequisites for this cognitive development. Then in psychological experiments using robots that are capable of eye-contact and joint attention, we observe how people, especially infants and children, attribute mental states to the robots. Based on these investigations, we consider a possible mechanism of empathy which is based on the spatiotemporal coordination of attention and bodily movement between the self and another.

This work was presented in part at the 8th International Symposium on Artificial Life and Robotics, Oita, Japan, January 24–26, 2003